Sayre, Christopher Gadsden (1876-1933)

Christopher Gadsden Sayre (November 21, 1876-October 12, 1933) was a South Carolina architect who had extensive work across North Carolina for many years, in partnership with James J. Baldwin and on his own. Although his practice encompassed many types of buildings, he was best known for his public school designs, which included some of the state’s finest public school edifices of the 1910s and, especially, the 1920s.

Sayre was born in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the son of William and Jane Dewers Gadsden Sayre. He was educated at the Porter Military Academy in Charleston and entered South Carolina College (later the University of South Carolina) in 1894, and received his BS degree from that institution in 1897. After graduating, he went to work in South Carolina in surveying and civil and mechanical engineering, from 1897 to 1906, working under the supervision of Gadsden E. Shand, an architect and engineer with W. B. Smith Whaley and Company, as the firm’s resident engineer at the Ware’s Shoals Manufacturing Company development in South Carolina. The complex, including a cotton mill, canal, dam, and power plant, was completed in 1904.

Sayre began an independent practice as architect and engineer about 1905, with offices in Anderson, South Carolina. City directories show him listed there in 1905-1906 as a Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineer, and in 1907-1908 as an engineer and architect, and in later years he typically listed himself as an architect. In 1909, architect James J. Baldwin joined Sayre as an associate, and the firm of Sayre and Baldwin operated for several years in the Bleckley Building in Anderson. The firm expanded its practice into North Carolina by 1909, designing numerous buildings, especially schools, across the state. They opened a branch office in Raleigh in 1914 but dissolved the partnership by 1915.

After parting ways with Baldwin, Sayre maintained an office in Anderson through 1931, but he also had offices in North Carolina cities: Raleigh, 1914-1925; Winston-Salem, 1925; Greensboro, 1924-1927; and Asheville, 1926. He resided in Greensboro briefly in 1925-1927, and had his office in the prestigious Jefferson Standard Building, designed by Charles C. Hartmann. Sayre’s architectural practice extended through much of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia through at least 1927, but the preponderance of his work after 1918 was in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, Sayre’s practice alone and with Baldwin included projects in 28 counties from west to east. His work included many types and styles of buildings, such as the multi-storied Wilrik Hotel in Sanford, the Moore County Courthouse in Carthage, and the imposing Colonial Revival A. M. Scales House II, with towering Mount Vernon porch, in Greensboro. Notably, Sayre also submitted sketches for the Buncombe County Courthouse, a major commission, but the commissioners selected Milburn, Heister, and Company as their architects. Sayre’s specialty, however, and doubtless his principal source of work, was in designing public schools.

Sayre became the leading public school architect of his day in North Carolina during a period of unprecedented state and local investment in education. Although other architects designed equally excellent school buildings in the state, such as Hugh White for the Gastonia High School; Hobart Upjohn for the Roanoke Rapids High School; and Douglas D. Ellington for the Asheville High School, and some architects planned a greater number of schools, none equaled Sayre for quality along with quantity. (Sayre had applied for the Asheville project, but Ellington, the local favorite, got the job.) Most of Sayre’s public schools were of brick with terra cotta or stone trim, two or three stories tall, and usually with double-loaded corridors flanked by classrooms typical of the era. The largest ones had gymnasiums, cafeterias, auditoriums, and other facilities. Most of them featured the popular Collegiate Gothic, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival and classical styles in more or less elaborate fashion and in various combinations.

More than 35 school projects by Sayre were mentioned in notices in the Manufacturers’ Record. These ranged from modest buildings to some of the largest and most elaborate public schools in the state. In Raleigh, for example, where he was employed for the city’s full set of public schools, he planned small schools for Pilot Mills and Caraleigh mill villages and also designed the large and handsome Wiley Elementary School and Thompson Elementary School (both for white students); Washington Grade and High School (for black students), and the magnificent and much mourned Hugh Morson High School (for white students), which was among the finest high schools in North Carolina. Known by reputation far and wide, he gained commissions for top-notch public schools in smaller towns as well, such as Claremont High School in Hickory, Boyden High School in Salisbury, Lumberton High School in Lumberton, Warrenton High School in Warrenton, and others. In some cases, Sayre’s drawings served to encourage local support for funding the projects, as was the case for the Lumberton High School. The local Robesonian of February 22 and February 26, 1923, expressed support for the much needed high school, for which a special election was to be held authorizing issuance of bonds of up to $250,000 for the project. The article identified Sayre (of Anderson and Raleigh) as the architect and announced, “Plans and a water-color perspective of the proposed new building will be placed on exhibition so that the people may see just what the school board has in mind.” Water color perspective drawings, a medium mastered by most successful architects, were frequently used to convey to clients what their proposed building might be, and often to persuade them to employ the architect or pay for the building.

Sayre was among the first architects licensed to practice in North Carolina. His license certificate, issued in 1915, was #40 in the official registration book of the North Carolina Board of Architecture.

Sayre was also involved in the burgeoning textile industry and was president-secretary of the Anderson Hosiery Mills in Anderson, South Carolina in 1925-1931. He died in Anderson on October 12, 1933. His son, Christopher Gadsden Sayre, Jr., moved to Texas, and had a son by the same name; family members still live in Texas.

Because of their extensive usage of the Manufacturers’ Record, Sayre and Baldwin and Sayre alone have an unusually large number of unconfirmed buildings. Only those that have been confirmed as built are included in the building lists. During Sayre’s association with Baldwin, the firm reported many building designs to the Manufacturers’ Record, chiefly when the firm had proposed or completed plans. Some were identified by name and location, but whether they were built or whether they still stand has not been determined. Anson County, Wadesboro, Anderson Sanitarium Building (MR 6/19/1913); Cabarrus County, Mount Pleasant, Mont Amoena Seminary Building (MR 7/18/1912); Gaston County, Gastonia, Mrs. E. C. Wilson House, “colonial style dwelling” (MR 12/30/09); Johnston County, Smithfield, Bank of Smithfield (MR 5/22/1913, 6/19/1913); Johnston County, Smithfield, Cotter-Underwood Store Building (MR 5/22/1913 and 6/19/1913); Lee County, Sanford, First Methodist Church (MR 6/6/1914); Randolph County, Asheboro, Randolph County Jail (MR 8/13/1914); Rutherford County, Rutherfordton, Dr. Henry Morris Hospital (MR 9/15/1910); Transylvania County, Brevard, Brevard Institute Girls’ Dormitory Remodeling (MR 12/4/1913). Others were noted only by type and location: School, Concord, Cabarrus County (MR 7/9/1914); School, Bessemer City, Gaston County (MR 7/24/1913); School, Canton, Haywood County (MR 4/15/1909); Graded School, Kenly, Johnston County (MR 6/19/1913); School, Franklin, Macon County (MR 6/24/1909); School, Rutherfordton, Rutherford County (MR 6/30/1910); School, Marshville, Union County (MR 9/9/1909, 12/2/1909).

After Sayre went out on his own, he continued to send notices of his work to the Manufacturers’ Record on a regular basis. Bladen County, Bladenboro, School, 1917 (MR 2/22/1917); Buncombe County, Asheville: First Christian Church, 1925, Oak St. (MR 1/1/1925), Mountain Street School, 1925, Mountain St. (MR 7/23/1925), Chateau LaFayette Hotel, 1926, Stradley Mountain Park (MR 4/15/1926), West Asheville Presbyterian Church (MR 11/17/1921, and 5/25/1922), West Asheville High School (MR 7/23/1925), Eugene Rankin School (MR 11/26/1925); Catawba County, Hickory, Teacherage (MR 7/19/1923); Hoke County, Raeford, Presbyterian Church, 1921 (MR 9/8/1921); Johnston County, Clayton, Baptist Church, 1919 (MR 6/12/1919); Polk County, Columbus, School, 1916 (MR 7/20/1916); Randolph County, Ramseur, School, 1921 (MR 7/7/1921); Robeson County, Fairmont, School, 1921 (MR 3/10/1921, 3/7/1921); Robeson County, Maxton, School, 1916 (MR 1/27/1916, 2/24/1916, 3/9/1916); Swain County, Bryson City, School, 1922 (MR 8/24/1922); Wake County, Raleigh, Caraleigh School, 1924 (MR 7/31/1924), and Pilot Mills School, 1924 (MR 7/31/1924).

Further information is sought on these and other Sayre works. Not all projects cited in the Manufacturers’ Record as planned by a firm were actually built, or built from that firm’s designs. Only those whose status has been confirmed are included in the building list.

  • American Art Annual, 21 (1924).
  • Anderson, South Carolina City Directory, various issues.
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Edgar M. Lyda Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Manufacturers’ Record, various issues.
  • North Carolina Board of Architecture, Record Book 1915-1992, microfilmed by North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The South Carolina Architects, 1885-1935: A Biographical Dictionary (1992).
Sort Building List by:
  • A. M. Scales House II

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1926
    Location:
    Greensboro, Guilford County
    Street Address:
    1207 Lakewood Dr., Greensboro, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Images Puslished In:
    Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro: An Architectural Record (1995).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (Mar. 18, 1926) and it is well known as his design.

  • Boyden High School

    Contributors:
    Variant Name(s):
    Salisbury High School
    Dates:
    1924-1926
    Location:
    Salisbury, Rowan County
    Street Address:
    500 Lincolnton Rd., Salisbury, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Century Structures (1983).
    Note:
    To plan their high school, Salisbury leaders consulted Columbia University education experts George D. Strayer and Nickolaus Engelhardt on current ideals of design and employed Sayre to design it (Manufacturers' Record, Dec. 25, 1924); it is well known as his design. They employed another outstanding practitioner, Earle S. Draper, to plan the landscape.

  • Cecil Elementary School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1925
    Location:
    Lexington, Davidson County
    Street Address:
    301 E. Center St., Lexington, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Paul Baker Touart, Building the Backcountry: An Architectural History of Davidson County, North Carolina (1987).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (Apr. 9, 1925; Apr. 16, 1925) and the present building was probably his design.

  • Central Methodist Church

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1917-1921
    Location:
    Spencer, Rowan County
    Street Address:
    Spencer, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Images Puslished In:
    Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Century Structures (1983).

  • Central United Methodist Church

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1917-1918
    Location:
    Spencer, Rowan County
    Street Address:
    200 4th St., Spencer, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Note:
    The neoclassical revival brick church was reportedly planned by Sayre, a noted school architect who subsequently gained the commission for Salisbury's prestigious Boyden High School. Interestingly, it is similar in overall format to the First Methodist Church in Salisbury as well as to several churches planned by Charlotte architect James M. McMichael.

  • Claremont High School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1924-1925
    Location:
    Hickory, Catawba County
    Street Address:
    231 3rd Ave. NE, Hickory, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
    Kirk Franklin Mohney and Laura A. W. Phillips, From Tavern to Town: The Architectural History of Hickory, North Carolina (1988).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record of (Feb. 7, 1924; Feb. 14, 1924; May 22, 1924); it is one of his best known school designs.

  • Concord High School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1922-1924
    Location:
    Concord, Cabarrus County
    Street Address:
    120 Marsh Ave., N. W., Concord, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Peter R. Kaplan, The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina (2004).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (Dec. 14, 1922) and the present building was probably his design.

  • Concord National Bank and Hotel

    Dates:
    1925
    Location:
    Concord, Cabarrus County
    Street Address:
    2-14 Union St. North, Concord, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Commercial
    Images Puslished In:
    Peter R. Kaplan, The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina (2004).
    Note:
    Construction of the dual purpose building, which cost more than $400,000 to erect, was covered in the local Concord Times of May 7, 1925 and February 8, May 31, June 10, June 14, and June 17, 1926. A design for the Concord National Bank and Hotel was also prepared by architect Christopher Gadsden Sayre, as noted in the American Art Annual, Vol. 21.

  • Edenton High School

    Contributors:
    Christopher Gadsden Sayre, architect (1916 and 1922)
    Dates:
    1916; 1922 [additions]
    Location:
    Edenton, Chowan County
    Street Address:
    100 block Court St., Edenton, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Thomas R. Butchko, Edenton, an Architectural Portrait: The Historic Architecture of Edenton, North Carolina (1992).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (Mar. 23, 1916) and it was illustrated therein. He also designed the additions (Manufacturers' Record, June 29, 1922).

  • Farmville High School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1919-1920
    Location:
    Farmville, Pitt County
    Street Address:
    Main St., Farmville, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (Dec. 25, 1919; Jan. 1, 1920; Jan. 12, 1920) and the building was probably his design. It stood until the 1980s.

  • First Baptist Church

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1916-1917
    Location:
    Scotland Neck, Halifax County
    Street Address:
    SE corner of Church St. and W. 11th St., Scotland Neck, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (June 22, 1916) and the present building was probably his design.

  • Hugh Morson High School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1924
    Location:
    Raleigh, Wake County
    Street Address:
    New Bern Ave., Raleigh, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Note:
    The project was cited as Sayre's in the Manufacturers' Record (June 19, 1924; June 26, 1924) and was among his best known works. It was the flagship high school for Raleigh for many years, along with the slightly later Broughton High School designed by William H. Deitrick.

  • Immanuel Baptist Church

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1916
    Location:
    Greenville, Pitt County
    Street Address:
    200 block W. 8th St., Greenville, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Images Puslished In:
    Michael Cotter, ed., The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1988).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project ("Emanuel" Baptist Church in Greenville) in the Manufacturers' Record (Nov. 23, 1916). The church, which was probably his design, stood until the 1990s, an edifice of buff colored brick with abundant classical detailing, including pediments and a large portico.

  • Lumberton High School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1923
    Location:
    Lumberton, Robeson County
    Street Address:
    Walnut St., Lumberton, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Note:
    Sayre cited his design for the high school in Lumberton in the Manufacturers' Record (July 26, 1923). Meanwhile, the Lumberton Robesonian of February 22 and 26, 1923, encouraging local support for building the high school, announced that Sayre's plans and a water-color perspective drawing would be on display so that citizens could see what the school board had in mind. When completed, the large, well-equipped school became a landmark in the community. It was razed in 1970.

  • McIver School

    Contributors:
    Variant Name(s):
    East Sanford Graded School
    Dates:
    1916
    Location:
    Sanford, Lee County
    Street Address:
    219 Maple Ave., Sanford, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    J. Daniel Pezzoni, The History & Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina (1995).
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record (Apr. 13, 1916; May 25, 1916) and it is well known as his design.

  • Moore County Courthouse

    Contributors:
    Christopher Gadsden Sayre, architect; Joe W. Stout, contractor; Joe W. Stout & Co., contractors
    Dates:
    1922
    Location:
    Carthage, Moore County
    Street Address:
    Courthouse Square, Carthage, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Public
    Note:
    Sayre cited this project in the Manufacturers' Record of (Apr. 20, 1922) and it is well known as his design.

  • Mrs. E. C. Wilson House

    Contributors:
    James J. Baldwin, architect; Sayre and Baldwin, architect; Christopher Gadsden Sayre, architects
    Dates:
    1909-1910
    Location:
    Gastonia, Gaston County
    Street Address:
    Gastonia, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Residential
    Note:
    The Mrs. E. C. Wilson House, a "colonial style dwelling," was cited as Sayre's and Baldwin's in the Manufacturers' Record (Dec. 30, 1909).

  • Norlina School

    Contributors:
    Christopher Gadsden Sayre, architect; Joe W. Stout, contractor; Joe W. Stout & Co., contractors
    Variant Name(s):
    Norlina Christian School
    Dates:
    Ca. 1915
    Location:
    Norlina, Warren County
    Street Address:
    Heaven St., Norlina, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Note:
    The Norlina School project was cited to Sayre in the the Manufacturers' Record (Aug. 12, 1915) and the present building is probably his design.

  • Patton Memorial Hospital

    Contributors:
    James J. Baldwin, architect; Sayre and Baldwin, architects; Christopher Gadsden Sayre, architect
    Dates:
    1912-1913
    Location:
    Hendersonville, Henderson County
    Street Address:
    1225 Highland St., Hendersonville, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Health Care
    Note:
    The Patton Hospital was cited as Sayre and Baldwin's in the Manufacturers' Record (10/24/1912, 3/27/1913, and 4/3/1913). The 2-story brick building with Craftsman detailing was the mountain resort's first hospital and encouraged the development of the suburb known as Hyman Heights.

  • Thompson Elementary School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1922-1923
    Location:
    Raleigh, Wake County
    Street Address:
    307 E. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Linda L. Harris and Mary Ann Lee, An Architectural and Historical Inventory of Raleigh, North Carolina (1978).
    Note:
    The project was cited as Sayre's in the Manufacturers' Record (June 29, 1922; Sept. 21, 1922) and is well known as his design.

  • Warrenton High School

    Contributors:
    Variant Name(s):
    John Graham High School
    Dates:
    1921-1922
    Location:
    Warrenton, Warren County
    Street Address:
    N. Main St. at Ridgeway St., Warrenton, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational

  • Washington Grade and High School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1922-1923
    Location:
    Raleigh, Wake County
    Street Address:
    1000 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Linda L. Harris and Mary Ann Lee, An Architectural and Historical Inventory of Raleigh, North Carolina (1978).
    Note:
    The project was cited as Sayre's in the Manufacturers' Record (June 19, 1922; July 5, 1923) and is well known as his design. Washington School was Raleigh's first public high school for African Americans and remained the only such school until 1953. The building has been used continuously as a school since its opening and is remarkably intact.

  • Wiley Elementary School

    Contributors:
    Dates:
    1922-1923
    Location:
    Raleigh, Wake County
    Street Address:
    301 St. Mary's St., Raleigh, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Educational
    Images Puslished In:
    Linda L. Harris and Mary Ann Lee, An Architectural and Historical Inventory of Raleigh, North Carolina (1978).
    Note:
    The project was cited as Sayre's in the Manufacturers' Record (June 9, 1922; Jan. 11, 1923) and is well known as his design.

  • Wilrik Hotel

    Contributors:
    Christopher Gadsden Sayre, architect; Joe W. Stout, contractor; Joe W. Stout & Co., contractors
    Variant Name(s):
    Wilkins-Ricks Hotel
    Dates:
    1925
    Location:
    Sanford, Lee County
    Street Address:
    200 Wicker St., Sanford, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Commercial
    Images Puslished In:
    Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
    J. Daniel Pezzoni, The History & Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina (1995).
    Note:
    The project was cited as Sayre's in the the Manufacturers' Record (June 5, 1924) and is well known as his design.

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